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Slack Key Festival Connects Homesick with Hawaii

The different flavors of slack key guitar were on display in a four-hour, entertaining performance in Redondo Beach Sunday that brought together Hawaiians at heart.

The soul-stirring sounds of Hawaiian guitar-playing filled the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center as music and culture combined for four hours of virtuoso slack key strumming Sunday afternoon.

Some of the most celebrated practioners of Hawaiian slack key performed old favorites and new compositions at the 6th Annual Southern California Slack Key Festival.

More than just a concert, the annual festival draws Southern California expatriates, frequent island visitors and avid fans of the distinctive guitar and ukulele sounds known as slack key or ki ho'alu.

The hundreds who filled the auditorium got a uncommon chance to connect with the songs and instrumentals that can spirit one back to the islands.

"I love the music," said Maui-born Robert Dikon, a chief at the Cafe Fiore in Woodland Hills. "It helps me feel a little less homesick."

Susan Shintaku of Carson and her friend Stephanie Milner of Ventura met up at the slack key festival for the third year running. Both have dads from Hawaii and both have Hawaii-infused childhood memories.

"On weekends, I remember growing up and my dad barbecuing," with Hawaiian music playing in the background, Milner said. Listening to slack key, "brings me back to my upbringing."

Slack key legends Dennis Kamakahi, Cyril Pahinui and Ledward Kaapana shared the stage with a younger generation of slack key performers, including Makana, Jeff Peterson, Jeff Au Hoy, Stephen Inglis and Peter Moon Jr.

The diversity of ki ho'alu on display ranged from Kaapana's classic "Radio Hula" and "I Kona" to the modern country-steel guitar stylings of Jim "Kimo" West and Ken Emerson to the new composition penned by Makana and Peterson that combines slack key and Spanish flamenco.

In a video before his performance, Peterson said slack key is finding new audiences outside of Hawaii and the United States. One development driving the growing interest is the soundtrack for "The Descendants," the George Clooney movie shot in Hawaii featuring slack key music. 

Mitch Chang, festival producer and Southern California guitar and ukulele instructor, announced the annual event will enter a new phase when he relocates to Michigan to join his new wife.

Chang said he will continue to produce the annual festival, however, and will present one other guitar performance at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Feb. 7: Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.

Did you attend the slack key festival? Tell us in the comments and upload your photos!

Sandra Oshiro (Editor) January 21, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Makana's blind-folded playing was among the highlights and the momentary electrical outage during Ledward Kaapana's set probably a low point for Led-heads. Did you have a favorite moment?

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